5 Must-try Tourist Attractions in New Zealand

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By Addah Arcilla | September 2, 2014 9:26 AM EST

New Zealand is a stunning country that is blessed with scenic mountain views, dense native forests, pristine beaches, glaciers and thermal regions--all of which offer an unlimited range of tourist attractions and activities. Whether you are looking for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, a relaxing commune with nature or experience New Zealand's modernity and traditional Maori culture--New Zealand has something to suit everyone's taste and interests, including these five must-try tourist attractions and directions.

1. Ski and snowboard attractions at Wanaka

If you are on vacation in New Zealand during winter, do not miss the chance to ski down its legendary slopes. One of the best places to visit for a world-class skiing and snowboarding experience is Wanaka.

Nestled along the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island, Wanaka makes an ideal winter holiday destination, particularly for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Home to the largest and most varied ski terrain in Australasia, Wanaka boasts of five international ski areas and the largest heli-skiing area in the Southern Hemisphere.

Treble Cone, the largest ski area in South Island, is just a 30-minute drive from Wanaka. Other ski areas, such as Cardrona, Snowpark and the Nordic ski resort Snowfarm, are all located about 35 km from Wanaka.

You can also find in Wanaka other winter activities that will keep you just as occupied. Take a scenic flight around Milford or Mt. Aspiring and treat yourself to spectacular views of snow-capped peaks, pristine waterways and the surrounding native bush. Or if you are feeling quite adventurous, try tandem sky diving over the region's scenic terrain. Spend a day at downtown Wanaka and entertain yourself with optic illusions and mazes at Puzzling World, relax and see a movie at Cinema Paradiso or satisfy your taste buds with the local coffee and cuisine.

Wanaka is located 428 km southwest of Christchurch and 68 km northeast of Queenstown. It has its own airport for scenic and chartered flights and is served by three international airports: Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown. Daily bus services link Lake Wanaka with Queenstown, Dunedin, Christchurch, Invercargil and the West Coast. 

2. Rotorua geothermal mud pools and hot springs

Take a dip in the soothing waters of a geothermal hot spring while surrounded with the awe-inspiring creative powers of fire? Then Rotorua will not disappoint you.

Geothermal activity was Rotorua's prime attraction. There are five geothermal areas where you can see a variety of hot springs, boiling mud pools, geysers and steaming craters up close.

First of this is Whakarewarewa that combines the unique experience of walking through a living Maori village together with the beauty of a geothermal landscape. Aside from an abundance of hot springs, Whakarewa is home to the largest geyser in New Zealand, the Pohutu Geyser. This impressive geyser shoots water up to a hundred feet about 15 times a day. In the Maori village you can roam among the Maori traditional carved houses or whares and catch a glimpse of how New Zealand's indigenous people living in harmony with the rich geothermal environment.

Aptly called "Hell's Gate", Tikitere is a vast 50-acre geothermal park set with spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and boiling mud pools. It feels like home in the scorching waterfall, Kakahi and to New Zealands largest mud volcano and hot whirlpool. Spend a day in a spa and experience the therapeutic relief afforded by their exquisite hot pools and mud baths.

Twenty minutes south of Rotorua sits Waimangu, a spectacular site that stands as a testament to the devastation brought on by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886. The volcanic eruption created some of Waimangu's most famous attractions, including the Emerald Pools, the amazingly blue Inferno Crater and the sizzling Frying Pan Lake.

Another 20-minute drive south of Rotorua you will find Waiotapu, the region's most colorful thermal park. Feast your eyes on hot pools hued anywhere from turquoise blue and emerald green to burnt orange and golden yellow. Other commendable attractions in the area include the Champagne Pool, so aptly named for its deep green water and vibrant orange rim and the daily timely eruptions of Lady Knox Geyser.

Located about 40 minutes from Rotorua on the River Waikato is Orakei Korako, a thermal park renowned for its pristine beauty. Dubbed as the "Hidden Valley", Orakei Korako is only accessible by a boat that only leaves by request. In it you will find boiling hot springs and mud pools, marvelous silica terraces, about 35 variable natural geysers and the geothermal cave Ruatapu.

Rotorua is 235 km (about 3 and a half hours) away from Auckland, 109 km (approximately an hour and half) away from Hamilton and 51.6 km (about 46 minutes) from Tirau. When traveling by car, you can take the Hamilton route, taking State Highway 1 and then joining State Highway 5 at Tirau.

Rotorua is serviced by a small international airport with direct flights from Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown offered by Air New Zealand. Trams-Tasman offers direct flights from Sydney on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

3. Franz Joseph Glacier

One of the most accessible glaciers in the world is the Franz Joseph Glacier that gives you the unique experience of exploring a dynamic glacier environment set admits a lush temperate rainforest.

The Maori knew Franz Joseph Glacier as Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere or "The Tears of Hinehukatere", from a local legend. The legend tells of Hinehukatere, a girl who had lost her lover to an avalanche and her flood of tears froze into the glacier. Europeans first explored the glacier in 1865 and was presently named after Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I by the German geologist Julius von Haast.

There are several guided and unguided walks within the glacier valley that you can take and the glacier's terminal face is just a 40-minute walk from the carpark. Take a guided ice walk if you actually want to make contact with the ice. Helicopters or ski planes can take you up where the glacier begins and professional guides will lead the journey on ice.

Franz Joseph Glacier is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast, 5 km from the Franz Joseph town. From there, drive south over the Waiho River bridge and then turn left to the Franz Joseph Glacier Access Road.

4. Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

The classic New Zealand wine trail is a sign-posted 380 km self-drive touring route that takes you through four of New Zealand's scenic regions, including three major wine producing regions that account for more than 80% of the country's annual total wine production. The trail is a true gourmet treat, offering anyone who trek the trail an opportunity to experience a multitude of vineyards, restaurants and cafes. 

Sitting on top of the trail is Hawkes Bay in North Island, a rural haven blessed with a Mediterranean climate and a rich Scandinavian heritage. It is New Zealand's oldest and second largest wine region, with over 150 years of winemaking heritage. Most prominent of their grape varieties is Merlot followed by Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Other notable varieties include Semillon, Gris, Pinot, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Recently, they have added cycling trails that allows you to effortlessly cruise the coast and the vineyards of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels.

At the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail is the distinctly boutique Wairarapa. It offers two distinct locations that is a must-see for food and wine lovers. The Martinborough Wine Village features over 20 mostly family owned vineyards that produce premium wine, particularly Pinot Noir. Nearby is Greytown, a country village that features well preserved Victorian wooden houses, buildings and several commendable spots for visitors with a taste for good cuisine and boutique shopping.

The wine trail then continues over the picturesque Rimutaka Mountain to Wellington, where the premium wines and produced wine trail come together on a plate. With over 400 cafes and restaurants to choose from, you will have a busy time tucking into every delectable food experience the city has to offer. Take a sip of Wellington's best coffee concoctions, satisfy your palate with first-rate cuisine, chug down some of the city's best craft brews or while the night away in one of the city's trendiest cocktail bars-whatever it is, take your fill of this gourmet capital city before heading back to the trail.

Hop onto a plane or take a ferry and head on to the southernmost wine region in the classic New Zealand wine trail. Located at the top of the South Island, Marlborough holds a reputation as the producer of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. There are over 70 wineries to choose from, including some of New Zealand's most renowned wineries such as cloudy Bay, Hunters, Saint Claire, Herzog and Alan Scott. 

5. Hobbiton

Finally, what a visit to New Zealand or to the North Island without a stop off at the Shire? The epic trilogy Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies have all been filmed in New Zealand. Although there are themed tours that will take you to the exact spots where certain scenes were filmed, the only set still standing is Hobbiton.

Hobbiton is situated southeast of Hamilton in the town of Matamata. The site was built on the Alexander family farm with its scenery very similar to the description of Middle-earth in the book.

Spend some time in Middle-earth and entertain yourself with stories and insider scoop on how the Hollywood blockbuster was filmed. You can even dress up as one of the characters in the film as you stroll around Hobbiton and pose in front of a hobbit hole or beside the Party Tree. After the tour, you can relax at the Green Dragon Inn--an exact replica of the one featured in the Lord of the Rings film--with a tumbler of old-fashioned ale or cider plus a roaring fire to warm you up if you come in winter.

If driving by car, head for the Shire's Rest Café on Buckland Road. Otherwise, Inter-city buses offer daily services from Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo, Auckland and Wellington.

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